Feature

Fragile

When Jillian Groh checked in to the downtown Westin Hotel one cold night almost seven years ago, everything felt certain. Then things changed forever.

October 2013

On any given night, Black Hawk’s casinos are filled with people betting on chance, hoping the random flip of a card or twirl of a roulette wheel might produce a bit of good fortune. Black Hawk was in the rearview mirror of Sun Chon’s Acura MDX as she drove east on the early morning of March 4, 2007. Chon navigated the tight turns on her way home to the Denver area. Sometime before 4 a.m., some 45 miles after leaving Black Hawk, Chon exited I-25 south and merged onto I-225. Less than a mile later she felt a bump beneath the car. The jolt compelled her to pull over. Chon inspected the vehicle: One of the tires was flat. She called a family friend for help. 

Not long after he got the call, Hun Choi showed up in his Ford Expedition. Beneath the glow of a streetlight, he attempted unsuccessfully to fix the flat. Figuring it was best to get off the highway, Choi decided he would drive the disabled car to the next exit and then take stock of the situation. The exit for South Parker Road was only a few miles away. To be safe, he would drive the Acura and have Chon follow in his SUV. They both pulled back onto the highway close to 4 a.m. Their hazard lights pulsed into the night as they made their way toward the exit at about 15 miles per hour. It seemed as if they were the only ones on the road.


Jill tossed the keys to her silver PT Cruiser to Angela Reed, a friend from college. The group decided to head back to Jill’s apartment not far from the Denver Tech Center. Seven people piled into the car: Angela got into the driver’s seat, and Jill and three others crammed in the back. Jill’s roommate, Jacquelyn Paisal, sat on the lap of one of the guys in the passenger seat. No one clicked on a seatbelt. 

Angela maneuvered out of the garage, drove past a cabstand along Lawrence Street half a block north of the 16th Street Mall, and ended up on I-25. The car was quiet. Angela glanced in the rearview mirror as she drove. She saw Jill flirting with one of the guys in the back—a guy Angela had been involved with. Angela continued to steal glances as she exited the southbound lanes of I-25 and eventually got on I-225 north. The car was traveling at least 60 miles per hour when Jacquelyn noticed what looked like brake lights in the distance. They approached so quickly it was almost as if the car was parked in the right lane. “Angela,” Jacquelyn said. “Are you going to stop?”

 

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